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Is triple play a reality?

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With triple play becoming the latest communications must-have, players have gone into overdrive to develop and deploy robust services that differentiate them in an already competitive marketplace.

However, as with most new technologies, triple play (Voice over IP), data and IPTV (Video over IP) represents a number of development, deployment and adoption challenges.  And it is particularly IPTV that is adding an extra level of complexity from a technological and economic point of view.
Steve Alves MD at Concilium Technologies, explains: "For one, IPTV is still a relatively new communications technology and there are, for example, currently no approved standards to measure the quality of video over IP.
"In addition, players are ferociously bidding for market share while equipment manufacturers are quickly developing products to standardise them among service providers."
The complexity of IPTV becomes even more evident when services have to be deployed timeously while still offering a comparable video quality with satellite and other services.
Furthermore, maintaining combined high QoS (quality of service) for voice, video and data, when transmitted over the same infrastructure, is another challenge and concern.
"The reality is IPTV broadcasts require high bandwidth with near real-time service – a major challenge in our current South African environment. Furthermore, although Voice over IP is not bandwidth intensive it is very sensitive to delays and packet loss," says Alves.
Quality of Experience (QOE) is also non negotiable.  For example, if a user changes channels, he or she expects the channel to change almost immediately. In the case of IPTV an IGMP join command is sent through the Set Top Box, through the Residential Gateway to the delivery network; and depending on the traffic load and where the multicast video is in the network, the channel will change.
However, in the case of poor QoE a subscriber might press the remote twice which will lead to a change in channel twice instead of only once.
Another real life example is a change in the priority of services in a broadband connection to add IPTV services with its characteristic high bandwidth requirement.
Here, a gaming user, who was used to a specific network response, now has irregular and slow response if his service as the service priority was incorrectly configured.
With the above IPTV and Triple Play challenges in mind, Agilent Technologies' provides Triple Play test equipment from an end to end technology cycle perspective.
Alves adds: "Agilent's J6900A Triple Play Analyzer for example, monitors, diagnoses and troubleshoots Triple Play networks that includes VoIP and IPTV."
To effectively monitor and diagnose the correct problem in the network, the Triple Play Analyzer starts the measurements with a global view of the traffic, automatically slicing and classifying data into TCP/IP traffic, MPEG2-TS streams (IPTV or VoD) and RTP streams (VoIP or IPTV).
"A breakdown of the different types of traffic is displayed giving the user the ability to quickly identify the type of traffic for further analysis. One of the typical requirements when troubleshooting triple play services is to quickly estimate the bandwidth that different applications are consuming," he explains.
"The solution is also relatively easy to use and enables engineers to quickly identify customer-impacting problems providing test results for key parameters of IP telephony, IPTV and so forth."
Lastly, Agilent offers solutions for end-to-end Triple Play network design, deployment, monitoring and maintenance.
The combination of solutions for active testing (Agilent N2X), home network testing (Agilent FrameScope) and network monitoring and troubleshooting (Agilent J6900A Triple Play Analyzer) provide network equipment manufacturers and service providers with the right tool to help deliver broadcast quality media that meets the quality standards needed to compete with traditional and competitive networks.